WHEELING - Ron Violi believes teenagers who are playing basketball late at night, rather than hanging out on city streets, are less likely to visit the emergency room.
That is one reason Wheeling Hospital donated $250,000 to the effort to build the J.B. Chambers Recreation Park in East Wheeling, he said Wednesday.
"We are happy and proud to do it," the Wheeling Hospital chief executive officer said during a news conference announcing the contribution. "We try to do whatever we can to be able to provide help to the city of Wheeling."
Photo by Scott McCloskey
City Manager Robert Herron outlines plans for the East Wheeling J.B. Chambers Recreation Park
Mayor Andy McKenzie said the donation from the hospital - along with thousands of dollars provided by the J.B. Chambers Foundation, the Bordas and Bordas law firm and the Roy and Dorothy Chambers Foundation - will help to revitalize the East Wheeling neighborhood, which has become known for dilapidated buildings and blighted conditions. He believes the recreation complex, combined with new housing recently constructed by the Vandalia Heritage Corp. on Wood Street and 15th streets, will attract visitors, investors and new residents to the area.
"I think this part of the city really needs something," Violi agreed.
As a former CEO of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, Violi said he has seen similar projects impact other neighborhoods that were in need of a new direction. He believes the planned recreation complex will attract many people of all ages.
"I've seen it in the past. They use them day and night," he said. "And teenagers playing basketball, in my judgment, are way better off than on the street corners."
The total project is expected to cost almost $3.3 million. Major donations that have been announced now total $1.1 million - one-third of the estimated cost.
The city recently received $50,000 for the project from the Bordas & Bordas law firm and another $50,000 from the Roy and Dorothy Chambers Foundation, of which Jim and Linda Bordas are trustees. And last summer, city leaders revealed the J.B. Chambers Foundation had donated $750,000 to the project, earning it the naming rights for the park.
Even with those donations, however, additional money is needed to build the park, McKenzie said Wednesday. He noted that additional announcements regarding "very generous" contributions will be held in the coming weeks, but he claims another $200,000 to $300,000 remains to be raised.
"We have been reaching out to organizations and people who we believe believe in Wheeling," McKenzie said. "We are still asking the people of the community to contribute."
He pointed out the park will offer the only artificial turf field in the city that will be open to the public. He also said officials still are seeking large donations; however, smaller donations may be sought later to help put finishing touches on the project.
Building the proposed park will cost about $2.08 million. James White Construction of Weirton submitted the low bid for each of two separate contracts - $1.52 million for a lighted, artificial turf field and $560,985 to replace the Elks Playground that was removed during demolition last year. Another $1.22 million already has been spent for property acquisition and demolition.
Plans for the park include the lighted, artificial turf field suitable for regulation football, soccer, lacrosse and softball, though City Manager Robert Herron stressed the field will not be set up to handle varsity football games. A playground with restrooms, a variety of new equipment built over a protective surface and two basketball courts, also lighted, will be located within sight of the field so parents with children of varying ages can keep an eye on them.
"Not only will it be open to residents of East Wheeling, but it will bring thousands of people to the neighborhood," Herron said. "We are really excited about all those opportunities."
According to Herron, Wheeling's Recreation Department will manage the East Wheeling park, similar to the way it oversees the J.B. Chambers Youth Sports Complex in Elm Grove.
Also on hand for Wednesday's announcement were City Clerk Janice Jones, council members Eugene Fahey and Gloria Delbrugge, city marketing and community relations Director Allison O'Konski and hospital spokesman Gregg Warren.